Terrance Heath

Empathy Is Revolutionary

Filed By Terrance Heath | April 04, 2013 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Jane Fonda, Oprah, revolutionary thought

“Look what scares you in the face and try to understand it. Empathy, I have learned, is revolutionary.” – Jane Fonda

Some people love her. Some people hate her. Some people probably think she doesn’t have anything to say that they need to hear. That’s a damn same, because they will miss out on this revealing moment from “Oprah’s Master Class” with Jane Fonda.

More after the break.

In the clip, Fonda explains that she was taken to a North Vietnam military site on the last day of her visit, even though she did not want to go. “I was an emotional wreck by [then],” she remembers. “I don’t know if I was set up or not. I was an adult. I take responsibility for my actions.”

That’s when a small ceremony began. “These soldiers sang a song; I sang a song in feeble Vietnamese,” she says. “Everyone was laughing. I was led to a gun site and I sat down. And I was laughing and clapping, and there were pictures taken.”

As Fonda walked away from the site, she suddenly realized how those pictures would look to the rest of the world. “I understand the anger about that,” she admits.

Years later, Fonda arranged to meet privately with a group of Vietnam veterans. Some of the veterans had attended the meeting eager to confront the woman they considered a traitor, and to fully express their hostility. Fonda remembers one man in particular. “[He had been with] the Delta death squad and he had an ace of spades,” she says. “That was the card that would be thrown when he was going to kill someone, and he brought it with him [to the meeting]. He was intending to challenge me and throw it at my feet.”

In the clip, Fonda reveals what happened during the meeting — including how the man ended up tearing up his ace of spades and throwing it in the trash. “I don’t mean that every single man there suddenly was ‘fond of Fonda,’” she says. “But there was a lot of healing.”

The moving experience taught Fonda a life lesson that extends beyond the Vietnam controversy. “We have to listen to each other, even when we don’t agree, even when we think we hate each other,” she says. “I learned so much from that meeting. It was a very difficult thing to do and it was one of the best things that I ever did in my life. Look what scares you in the face and try to understand it. Empathy, I have learned, is revolutionary.

I’m not a huge fan of Oprah’s “Master Class” series. Love her, I do, but she can sometimes get a bit too preachy for my tastes. So, I usually skip these shows.

But I might tune in for the Jame Fonda episode. As Kathy Griffin one said, this is a woman who has had a “wall of shit fall on her” and still managed to carry herself with grace and dignity, and I might had without a trace of bitterness.

Like I said, there are some people who will either not want to hear a thing she has to say, or will respond by saying that she’s making it all up to get publicity/sympathy, etc. But why? This isn’t something she had to do. It’s not like she had no career afterwards, and had to do this as a means of salvaging it.

She comes across as someone who make a huge mistake, the magnitude of which she only understood later, and has had decades to come to terms with. Fonda herself describes what she did as “unforgivable,” and she doesn’t come across as seeking forgiveness so much as expressing regret, and sharing her efforts to understand how much her actions impacted others.

The folks who are still mad at her could take a cue from what she says at the end of this video. At this point, there’s nothing she can do to win their forgiveness.

It’s always puzzled me why people invest so much energy in staying angry over something that someone said or did in the past, because there’s no way to resolve it. If a sincere apology and a genuine effort to make amends isn’t good enough, then nothing short of going back in time and undoing what was done will ever be good enough. And that’s impossible. Meanwhile, the person you’ve spent so much time and energy energy staying mad at is moving on, while you rage against … What? Their inability to turn back time?

My guess is that Jane Fonda has learned over many years to do just what she says at the end of this video to listen to and try to understand the hurt and anger caused by her actions decades ago, empathize with those who were affected, apologize (again and again), make what amends she can, and move on.

I think that’s probably the only way she’s had the courage and strength to carry on with her life and career. And along the way she’s learned something worth passing on: Empathy is revolutionary.


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